Avedis Foundation has shared highlights of its grants, initiatives, and partnerships from 2018. Since being formed in 2012, the Shawnee-based foundation has granted more than $38 million in Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.

“By all accounts, 2018 was a year of unprecedented growth and change – not just for Avedis’ community partnerships and initiatives, but for the Foundation itself,” observed President and CEO Kathy Laster. “To the extent that it’s rewarding to reflect on our community’s 2018 milestones, it’s equally exciting to look ahead at the opportunities that await us in 2019,” Laster noted.

Highlights from 2018 include:

Partnerships and Initiatives for Community Enrichment:

Community Renewal Opens First Friendship House

Community Renewal’s Friendship Houses help to establish a caring infrastructure by providing central, safe locations for after-school programs and other activities in identified neighborhoods. In October 2017, Shawnee broke ground on its first, the Craig Family Friendship House. At that time, neighbors in the area voiced their interest in having a community garden in conjunction with the addition of the Friendship House.

The resulting Kickapoo Park Community Garden, which opened in late April, 2018, is the collaborative effort of Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County and the Community Garden Sub-Committee of the Blue Zones Project/Pottawatomie County.

Completion of the project included the transfer of the lot’s ownership from Pottawatomie County Commissioners to the City of Shawnee, which allows community gardens on vacant lots, according to a city ordinance.

Community Market of Pottawatomie County

In the span of just two years, Community Market of Pottawatomie County has become the largest hunger relief agency in the state of Oklahoma in terms of pounds of food and people served. 

In 2018, Community Market served nearly 19,000 clients, which represents about 25% of the county’s population. Of those individuals served, about one-third are children.

Partners in Caring

As part of Avedis Foundation’s Pottawatomie County Education Initiative, Avedis continues to serve as a stakeholder to promote the services and activities provided by Partners In Caring (PIC), a multi-partnered, coordinated school health team that provides critical, combined support to rural schools to ensure that children are healthy, safe, engaged, and ready to learn. In partnership with local social service/mental health agencies, PIC operates using an evidence-based model, “Whole School. Whole Community. Whole Child.”

Partnering agencies include: Central Oklahoma Community Action, DHS, Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, North Oklahoma County Mental Health Center, Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, Youth & Family Resource Center and the public school systems.

Blue Zones Project

Blue Zones is a nationally recognized, research-driven, well-being improvement initiative, designed to enable community members to live longer, happier lives with lower rates of chronic diseases and a higher quality of life.

In 2018, FireLake Discount Foods achieved a significant designation as the only Blue Zones-approved tribal grocery store in the U.S. The grocer is also the first Blue Zones Project-approved grocery store in Pottawatomie County and Oklahoma.

In completing the certification process, FireLake Discount Foods implemented several strategies, including encouraging parking at the farthest spaces from the store, selling healthy grab-and-go lunches, enlisting a registered dietitian to conduct monthly shopping tours, distributing healthy recipes and hosting in-store monthly food demonstrations to promote healthy cooking. The grocer also added a Blue Zones Project checkout lane.

Georg Fischer Central Plastics (Georg Fischer) also achieved designation as a Blue Zones Project Approved™ Worksite. As one of the 10 largest employers in Pottawatomie County, Georg Fischer is the first and only manufacturer in the state of Oklahoma to earn this approval status.

To encourage natural movement, Georg Fischer Central Plastics created a Blue Zones Project parking lot and walking track, as well as an internal employee wellness brand referred to as “Motivation Central.”

An employee container garden was also created and thrives with a variety of fall produce, including radishes, carrots, spinach and a mature cantaloupe vine. Employees plan to plant more in the spring to include new seasonal varieties, as well.

In July, Homeland stores announced that their two Shawnee stores, located at 600 W. Independence and 2705 N. Harrison, had stopped selling tobacco products as part of the stores’ effort to become a smoke-free zone.

"We want you to know Homeland's commitment to the Blue Zones Project and we are excited and honored to be a part of that,” stated Brian Haaraoja, VP of merchandising and marketing for Homeland stores. "We look forward to working with the community on this journey, as both of our (Shawnee) stores will participate in the Blue Zones Project to be one of the food providers," he said.

An additional Blue Zones initiative began in 2018 with the help of Avedis board member Chuck Skillings, Dr. April Grace, Dr. David Whitlock and Marty Lewis, who asked how Shawnee could further engage part of the community in improving health and changing culture.

"This coalition of leaders really came up with the idea of a wellbeing district; to be that tangible statement of creating an environment that supports wellbeing," stated Blue Zones Project Organization Lead Miriam Bell.

To that end, Blue Zones Project has challenged local leaders to define a geographical area, define criteria and tackle some really tough issues in tobacco environment, the food environment, the built environment and then media promotions.

Shawnee Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club

Serving approximately 300 children per year, the Shawnee Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club serves as a safe haven for an average of 75-100 kids each day. Nearly all of these children would go home alone after school. The adult supervision and guidance provided by this nonprofit are vital to many children who might otherwise get into trouble and fall behind in school. By promoting healthy relationships with adults, The Club provides essential support that children need to be successful in school and in the community.

Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute Provides Training Opportunities

Following the 2017 establishment of the Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and independent consultants, Avedis Foundation hosted area nonprofits for courses in marketing, board development, strategic planning, and more in 2018.

In August, Avedis and the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits collaborated to provide training for several local nonprofit groups to develop skills in marketing their organizations while improving communication and interaction within the communities they serve.

“Providing training in Pottawatomie County is a benefit — especially to some of the smaller local organizations that might not have the freedom go elsewhere,” said Avedis Foundation Program Officer Audrey Seeliger.

Community Renewal Communications Coordinator Maile Hopkins said she always learns something new and sees the trainings as valuable. She added that the Avedis Foundation has done something truly special by helping unite nonprofits.

“Because of these trainings, we are able to get to know each other, work together and explore partnerships,” Hopkins said. “The culture of the nonprofit community in our town has changed significantly over the past few years and I believe it is mostly because of Avedis’ efforts through these courses and other offerings of support that have helped nonprofits work together.”

Neighboring 101 offers “Getting Ahead” classes

Since receiving a three-year grant from Avedis Foundation in 2014, Neighboring 101, an organization created to break the cycle of poverty within the community through education and collaboration. The organization’s “Getting Ahead” classes teach participants how to move forward by building resource development skills to achieve long-term stability.

Classes provide information about topics such as goal setting, financial literacy, dealing with stress, problem solving and relationship building, among others. During the program’s 16-20-week curriculum, participants examine where they are in life, and how they got there. To determine where they go from there, participants use the program’s training to recognize and avoid the four known causes of poverty: choices; community conditions; exploitation; and policies and economic conditions.

Avedis Speaker Looks at the Three C’s

The Avedis Foundation Speaker Series and more than 200 community leaders welcomed Dr. Nathan Mellor, CEO of Strata Leadership, in February, 2018, to offer insights into building a winning culture.

Asserting that a community’s culture is determined by what it does consistently, Mellor shared a method he believes can change the playing field, explaining his “C3” concept — character, plus competence, equals consistency.

Character navigates a person through decision-making. Competence is strictly one’s ability to do something well. Consistency is the result of producing the same results again and again over an extended period of time.

Mellor said the Oklahoma Standard is being at one’s best when things are at their worst, which lends to a culture of serving each other. Whether it be through natural disaster or budget crisis — among other things, Mellor said he believes Oklahoma is way ahead of the curve — in part, due to its expertise in regularly coping with difficult situations. It takes character and integrity to overcome problems and create a winning culture.

Avedis Funds Building Renovation for OBU’s New Clinic

In April, 2018, OBU opened the new Ronald N. and Lou T. Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic. Funding for renovation of the building was provided by Avedis Foundation. OBU alumni Dr. and Mrs. Ronald and Lou Kemp, graduates of 1957 and 1958, also provided a gift of $250,000 to support the clinic’s ongoing operational needs. The clinic plans to expand its current service area beyond the university’s community to the community at large. A community Open House is scheduled at the clinic on February 19th from 3:30 to 5:00 pm.

Sidewalks Projects:

Through Avedis Foundation’s collaboration with the City of Shawnee, several sidewalks projects continued in 2018 as part of the city’s five-year master plan, including the addition and replacement of sidewalks at Highland Street, continuing north on Broadway Street.

Tecumseh’s “Walk With Me” school sidewalk project, designed to create a safer walking environment for school children in high-traffic areas, began in 2018, following an awarded grant of federal funds through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), distributed through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Avedis Foundation provided the matching funds for Tecumseh's sidewalk grant, in addition to matching funds for similar grants in Asher, Earlsboro, McLoud, Maud and Shawnee.

Charles Martin Park Renovations

In early December, Avedis Foundation awarded a grant to the City of Tecumseh to allow for renovations to the playground equipment at Charles Martin Park, located at the corner of Third and Elm Streets.

“With the help of the Avedis Foundation a much-needed upgrade to the playground equipment will enhance this family-friendly neighborhood area,” Tecumseh City Manager Jimmy Stokes said.

Circle of Care’s “Legacy of Care”

An Avedis grant to Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care, a statewide foster care agency, will help advance the agency’s “Legacy of Care” campaign to provide homes for sibling sets in foster care in Pottawatomie County while addressing their needs amid the state's severe shortage of foster homes for sibling sets of three or more children.

The project will create new, and enhance existing, foster care campuses in Woodward, Elk City, Enid, Alva, and Shawnee. The Legacy of Care campaign is designed to fund the construction and support of eight large, custom, single-family homes and five clubhouses/activity centers throughout the state to accommodate up to 48 foster children.

The Avedis grant will allow for the construction of two such foster sibling homes, in addition to a clubhouse/activity center in Shawnee. Both homes will be designed to accommodate up to six foster children with trained, certified foster parents. Additionally, the clubhouse will be used for recruiting, training and supporting foster parents from Pottawatomie County and surrounding communities.

"We know that siblings who have experienced abuse or neglect often share a deep bond," said Dr. Kathy Laster, Avedis president/CEO. "The separation of siblings is a deeply traumatic experience. Avedis Foundation is pleased to have a role in helping these children maintain their family connections and live more stable lives.”

Foundation-specific Highlights:

Retirement of Michelle Briggs Announced

In January, 2018, the Avedis Foundation board of directors announced the impending retirement of the foundation’s president and CEO, Michelle Briggs, effective June 30.

Briggs assumed the foundation’s leadership role at the time of its formation in June, 2012, following the sale of Unity Health Center to SSM Health Care/St. Anthony Shawnee.

Under Briggs’ leadership of nearly six years, Avedis issued more than $38 million in grants to numerous organizations in Shawnee and Pottawatomie County, in fulfillment of the foundation’s mission “to measurably improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.”

Avedis Foundation Board Chair Mike Adcock stated, “Michelle’s consistent ability to care for others has distinguished Avedis as one of our state’s leading foundations.”

“She has been seen as a leader among her peers for many years,” Adcock added, “and Avedis’ reputation and performance have benefitted from both her leadership and her guidance. We will miss these qualities and we will certainly miss Michelle as our CEO.”

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Avedis Names New President/CEO

In early May, 2018, the board of directors of the Avedis Foundation announced the appointment of Kathy Laster, Ph.D. as the foundation’s new president and CEO, effective July 1, 2018, following the retirement of Michelle Briggs.

Mike Adcock, Avedis Foundation’s board chair, stated, “Kathy brings valuable institutional knowledge of Avedis to her new position, as she has been a valued board member for many years.”

A resident of Shawnee for 39 years, Kathy Laster brings more than three decades of business management, board leadership, professional consulting, and clinical practice experience to her new leadership role as CEO for Avedis. Most recently, Laster served as the CEO of Impact Consulting, an Oklahoma City-based executive coaching and organizational consulting firm she co-founded in 2008.

In addition to serving as a founding board member for Avedis Foundation during the past six years, Laster served 18 years as a member of the Community Health Partners board, which was the governing board of the former Unity Health Center (SSM Health St. Anthony – Shawnee), predecessor of the Avedis Foundation board.

“We have big decisions to make as we carve out the next phase of our foundation’s history,” Laster said, adding, “I look forward to carrying out the important work of the Avedis Foundation.”

Describing Laster as a caring and compassionate leader, Adcock concluded, “Her considerable experience in management, consulting and clinical work will help Avedis thrive as we begin a new chapter in our foundation’s journey to improve the health, education and quality of life for our communities.”

Avedis Relocates to New Headquarters

In early September, 2018, several weeks ahead of schedule, Avedis Foundation relocated to its newly constructed, 6,842 square-foot headquarters, situated on an 11-acre wooded lot at 1500 E. Independence in Shawnee. Shawnee-based Greg Brown Homes, LLC served as the builder for the construction project, which broke ground in early February, 2018.

With its modern design, the foundation’s new space features large and small conference rooms, a safe room for inclement weather, a large kitchen for catered meals, a spacious, covered back porch and several individual offices.

“The Board of Directors is very proud of this facility and welcomes other local nonprofit organizations to use this beautiful space, as well,” commented Avedis Foundation board chair, Mark Finley. “This building is for our community to use whenever a need arises for small or large meetings,” Finley added.

The foundation hosted an open house in October to welcome the public to its new home.

Avedis Welcomes New Board Members, New Staff

Avedis Foundation announced the addition of four new members to the foundation’s board of directors in early September. Sarah Marchetti, Jill Spencer, Josh Trimble, and Joe Vorndran have agreed to serve on the 13-member nonprofit board.

“All four individuals were very honored to be selected,” stated Chuck Skillings, Vice Chairman and Governance Committee Chair for the Avedis Foundation board. “We sensed a degree of human kindness and compassion in each of them,” he added.

Long-standing board member, Mark Finley, has been appointed as the foundation’s new Chairman of the Board, while two long-time board members, Mike Adcock and Linda Praytor, have stepped down. Like Finley, both Adcock and Praytor are founding board members for Avedis Foundation.

“The Foundation will certainly feel the loss of these board members who have been extremely instrumental in the successful establishment and progress of Avedis to date,” said President and CEO Kathy Laster. “We are so appreciative of their service to our Foundation and communities. Mike’s leadership has been extraordinary as he helped negotiate the original sale of the hospital to form Avedis and helped firmly establish Avedis’ path. Linda’s experience, wisdom and knowledge of south Pottawatomie County have been a significant contribution to the Foundation. Both of these individuals will be missed,” Laster concluded.

The foundation also welcomed new staff additions in 2018, Tracy Meeuwsen, Program Director, and Cheyenne Pettigrew, Office Manager.

Salvation Army Names Avedis Foundation “Friend of Youth”

Each year, the Shawnee Salvation Army gathers for an evening of celebration to offer thanks and appreciation for its many volunteers and partners. In addition to recognizing “the army behind The Army” (workers, volunteers and community partners), Shawnee Salvation Army Capt. Russell Clay presented the evening’s award of distinction, the Don Bodard Friend of Youth Award, to the Avedis Foundation.

“For the past 20 years, we have honored leaders who have made a difference in the lives of young people,” Clay said. “This award was named in honor of the late Don Bodard, who, along with his wife, Nancy, was a longtime supporter of The Salvation Army, as well as other youth programs in Shawnee.”

Other Local Grants:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma to provide one-to-one mentoring for children with incarcerated parents.

Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma to support leadership development outreach.

Infant Crisis Services to help feed hungry babies in crisis.

Legacy Parenting Center to support parent education and parent/child resources from pregnancy to age five.

Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art to offer free museum admission during the summer of 2018.

South Rock Creek 4-H to create a community classroom learning garden.

St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital Shawnee Women’s Breast Center 3D Mammography

Oklahoma Arts Institute to support continuing education at Quartz Mountain.

Oklahoma Dental Foundation Mobile Smiles to deliver dental treatment to Pottawatomie County.

R.I.S.E. Cosmetology School at Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility.

SPAR, Saving Pets at Risk

Senior Citizens of Shawnee to support the Senior Fitness and Wellness program.

Shawnee Public School District to support the SHS athletic conditioning and character-building course.

South Central Industries to support its Job Expansion program.

Volunteer Health Center of Pottawatomie County to provide compassionate healthcare at no cost to the medically underserved.

About Avedis Foundation:

Avedis Foundation is a private foundation with 501(c)3, nonprofit status, established in June, 2012.

As one of Oklahoma’s larger foundations, Avedis was established to invest in the county through grants

that support projects and benefit nonprofit organizations within the foundation’s granting area.

The name “Avedis” means “one who brings glad tidings,” or “the bearer of good news,” a significance

intrinsic to the foundation's mission, “to measurably improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.” To underscore the relevance of the name and the foundation’s role as a benefactor to the community, Avedis Foundation can also be recognized by its signature statement, “We’re here for good.”

Avedis Foundation is located at 1500 E. Independence in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Learn more about Avedis Foundation at www.avedisfoundation.org.